All-Star Cast: Nick Van Woert

Sep 25, 2012 / by Dan Duray / Observer

Mr. van Woert’s studio bustles—he’s been busy preparing for Artissima, a fair in November in Turin, Italy, where he’ll be featured in a special section. Four people work in the studio four days a week, and welding sparks fly amid ominous metal devices.

Given all the other tools lying around the studio, the Kaczynski set is almost nondescript. There’s an axe, two trowels, pipes of various lengths, a welding mask and a recorder, the musical instrument, in a belt case with the initials TJK on it. They were recently incorporated into a major piece, similar to a few others he’s made recently, called History, that looks like a tool wall in a suburban garage. Each tool is cast with sand, which is packed into a box around it before the bronze is poured in. This gives the resulting artworks a drippy look that renders the original objects indistinct. History appeared in a show at Hauser & Wirth this past spring curated by the artist Matthew Day Jackson, who, at a press preview for the show, nervously stood before it and revealed where some of the tools had come from. It has an effect on people when they know, Mr. van Woert said. They tend to step back a little.

His assistants are no-nonsense, and though there’s a tone of levity amid all the statues and chemicals one finds at his studio—there’s a skateboard ramp and a foosball table—the informality just serves to remind you that this is all about anarchy. As we spoke about Kaczynski, a nearby worker carefully shaped sand around an object, as though it were icing, or C4. Mr. van Woert’s latest piece in the tool wall series involves only surgical tools, organized by where each object would be used on the body. The skull cracker is in the middle and the flesh hooks on the outer rim. It’s reminiscent of Damien Hirst’s pharmaceutical works.

“I’ve always been against mold-making, because for me its roots are in mass production,” Mr. van Woert said, “which is something I’ve never really been interested in. Sand mold, it’s an absolute bitch, but you get one cast from each mold. It gets destroyed? You have to redo it all over again. In a way it’s like growing vegetables. It’s in the dirt. You just hack it up, tend to it and dig it out.”